It’s that time of year. It’s time to say goodbye to classrooms and hello to summer. For some of you, this might be a final goodbye, never to enter a classroom again (at least for a while), and for others, it may be a brief hiatus until fall rolls around. This time last year, I walked across a stage in front of thousands of people and accepted my diploma, and in just four short days, many of my friends at my alma mater will be doing the same. Last week, I talked about the 10 best and worst things about graduating college. Today, I’m here to talk about professional advice, some of which I have received from others and some of which I have garnered on my own from a year in the working world (okay, eight months). Almost all of this advice can be applied to work and personal life. Let’s get started!
1. Don’t be afraid to do something because you might make a mistake. Just do it.
I learned this tidbit of advice from the Young PR Pros podcast I talked about in my April Favorites. It was one of the first episodes I listened to, and one of the hosts mentioned that people shouldn’t be afraid to publish a blog post or send a pitch to someone just because they might make a mistake (like a little typo). When I heard this advice, it was like something clicking in my brain. I used to comb through each and every post at least three times before hitting the publish button because I was afraid someone would judge me for a misplaced comma. Hearing from this accomplished professional that a slip of the finger isn’t going to make or break your career made me realize that it’s more important to be doing the thing than doing the thing perfectly. As long as you have passion in your work and are always open to learning, a minor error here or there won’t hurt you.
2. Build a network with the people around you.
Ever since I moved to Nashville, everyone has told me that it’s the people you know that help you get to the places you want to go. That’s why, as much as I struggle to do it, networking is so important. I suggest cultivating a great LinkedIn network with people you know from your hometown and university. It might feel weird to reach out to a stranger online, but trust me, people are more than willing to help out, and the worst thing they can do is decline your request.
3. Find the lesson in every opportunity.
I’ve always tried to live by this mantra, but I was recently listening to another podcast (I listen to a lot of podcasts, okay?) called “The Influencer Podcast” that had Dawn McCoy on as a guest. Honestly, I’d never heard of Dawn or seen her online, but she shared a story about a horrible experience she went through, and the whole time she was thinking, “What is the lesson in this? What am I supposed to learn from this situation?” I think this is an inspirational way to process whatever life throws at you. This vantage point is incredibly important to take with you into every job opportunity because even if it is your dream job, there are going to be low points when you feel like you’re not in the right place or you are struggling. When you feel that way, take a step back, and try and figure out what you can learn from the situation. Every lesson you learn can be applied to your current and future endeavors.
4. Listen. Soak in everything you can. Then, contribute.
No matter where you are in your career, if you are entering a new job, it’s crucial to listen before you talk. This is especially important if you are an intern or a new hire out of college. I’m not doubting that you have fantastic ideas and a fire in your belly to accomplish your goals and climb mountains, but if you’re the newest person in the room, listen. Listening will teach you so much more than talking. You might feel like you need to prove yourself by sharing ideas and collaborating with others, but trust me, you can prove yourself just as well by listening. Listening will teach you how to navigate office culture. Listening will teach you how to handle tough situations. Listening will teach you who the key clients are in your industry. Listen. Listen. Listen. Don’t be weird about it. Answer questions, contribute when you have a killer idea. Do your job well. But never forget to listen.
5. Be authentic.
I hear this everywhere, so there’s no way I can accurately attribute it. You’ve probably heard it a million times yourself, but let’s go for a million-and-one — stay true to yourself to achieve your dreams.
6. Stand out from the crowd.
Personally, I’ve always been worried about doing it wrong — whatever “it” may be. I would look to classmates to see how a presentation should be constructed. I would look to role models to see what steps I should take to get to where I wanted to be in my career. I would look to peers to see how I should be presenting myself in interviews. I looked to other constantly until one day I realized that no one I admire got to where they are by being someone else. They took their own risks. They called their own shots. And they are prospering for it. They didn’t follow a rule book, they made up their own.
7. Get as much experience in your field as possible, even if it’s not in a traditional work/internship experience.
This is a little lesson I picked up from watching those around me forge their own path. I am fortunate to know many inspirational people who have found their calling in life by doing what they loved. Most of my friends in college freaked out about picking the wrong major once or twice, and I kept telling them that it was going to be okay. I truly believe it is more important to do amazing things than study them. I’m NOT saying your major and higher education are not important. I graduated with a degree that I am thankful for every day, but I was also involved in every organization imaginable while in school and continue to involve myself in activities post-grad like professional development networks and volunteer opportunities. Being involved post-grad is just as important as being involved while in school, especially if you’re job may not be the perfect setting to further your skills or passions. Take the opportunity to get involved in your community and practice skills you are passionate about cultivating.
8. Ask people what you can do for them.
Another little tid-bit I got from The Influencer Podcast. Julie Solomon (the host) is always talking about reaching out to people and asking how you can serve them. I think that’s such a refreshing way of considering networking and building up a support group. Rather than asking for people to do things for you, try asking them what you might be able to do for them to make their lives a little bit easier. You’ll be surprised what you might hear.
9. Dress for the job you want not the job you have.
This is job advice 101, but trust me it’s a real thing. Even if you have the job you want, it always helps to dress professionally. Dress codes are all over the place, but my advice is dress a little bit above par. If the rest of your office shows up in jeans and t-shirts, I don’t recommend wearing a three-piece suit every day. But you could wear a button down with your jeans (or a casual dress if you’re a girl). Dressing a little above the norm is going to make people take you more seriously, and it’s might help you feel better about yourself in return.
10. Invest in good business cards.
Your job may provide you with business cards, but don’t be afraid to make your own. Additionally, invest in an email you’ll be proud to plaster on those cards. You can get a free account with Gmail, or for $5 a month you can get an email at a custom domain, like firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if your job does provide business cards, it’s worth it to have personal cards in case of an emergency (like getting laid off, though we all pray that won’t happen).
The professional world isn’t as scary as it seems from the outside. Whether this is your first internship, your first job, or you’re a seasoned professional, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.